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My First 72 Hours As Covid-19 Positive

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment just before the lockdown in South Africa

FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalist on what it feels to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. He says he’s lucky to be well enough to see through the stigma and document his experiences.   

On June 5, at 12.44PM, I received a text message on my phone that I had tested positive to the novel coronavirus.

I had been writing about the virus and its effect on small business since the lockdown started in South Africa, but never once thought I would become my own subject this soon.

On the warm Friday afternoon, I had been writing a story on how entrepreneurs are battling the economic downturn when the message came with the words ‘Mr Motlabana Monnakgotla, kindly note…’ and figured it might be yet another promotional message on a new product or policy.

Originally, my symptoms had started with a flu the previous week, and it was definitely more potent than any flu I have endured all my life. I was weak, my forehead had a rash, my temperature was up and down, and I had never sneezed so much in my life.

Self-portrait, in isolation at home in Soweto

I did what I would normally do when sick; I got myself medicines from a local chemist and took rest but I was always tired.

It was not until I received a call from my editor and she heard my deep nasal voice, and insisted that I immediately get myself tested for Covid-19 that I thought I may have contracted the virus. I had been in denial until then.

I was saddened that within the 5km radius where I live in Soweto, Johannesburg’s sprawling urban township, clinics had no test-kits or equipment and it had been the case for a while. After a few days of search, I eventually found a clinic that did Covid-19 tests, not far from Baragwanath Hospital. The results were out the very next day.

“I have witnessed criticism and judgement and learned that there is surely a stigma around the virus, just like HIV/Aids.”

Between Friday and now, I have gone through a wave of emotions and experiences. I have witnessed criticism and judgement and learned that there is surely a stigma around the virus, just like HIV/Aids. I had communicated my condition to close friends and family on WhatsApp groups hoping this would make them more aware of the gravity of the disease because someone so close was now infected.

But there were those who twisted the knife in the wound further by reiterating that I am “carrying the virus” and saying I would die of it. The stigma around the virus is real.

On the bright side, I have also made some new friends since opening up about my condition. In the past 72 hours, I have received enough messages of faith and love.

As I write this in my room in isolation, with new eyes, I look at everything around me that I had taken for-granted, such as the framed pictures of beaming family members on the walls in the living room. Life is short, but it’s great to be alive.

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